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Fire it Up! (or the art of shooting fireworks at weddings)

August 17th, 2010  |  Published in Featured, Shoot

I LOVE fireworks.  My favorite holiday is the Fourth of July and a good fireworks display can stop me dead in my tracks.  So I find it incredibly fortuitous that approximately half of my forty weddings per year involve pyrotechnics!  I guess my clients love fireworks just as much as I do, and it’s just another reason that I absolutely adore my couples!

One of the questions I am often asked is how to photograph fireworks when you are trying to include the couple in the frame.  Now, there is more than one way to skin a cat and there are certainly a lot of ways that you can capture great photographs of fireworks at a wedding, but this week I am going to tell you how I do it.

First, it is important to understand that not all fireworks displays are created equal.  When you find out that there are going to be fireworks at your wedding, there are some very important questions that you need to ask.  Where are they lighting the fireworks and in what direction are they planning to shoot them?  How long will the show last, or (even better) how many are they planning to light?   Where is the closest spot that the couple can stand?  Maine, like many states, has very strict laws governing the use of fireworks and there will be a clear line that may not be crossed legally.

Next, you will need to make some observations.  Which way is the wind blowing and how hard?  If it is really windy, this may affect the accuracy of the placement.  In that case, you may need to choose a spot for your couple that gives you more flexibility to move and frame them.  How much moisture is in the air?  If it is humid or foggy, the light will bounce off of the moisture in the air creating an interesting effect and giving you more available light to play with.  How close will the couple be standing to a light source?  If they are near a building, lamp, or a video light it will affect your exposure and how you balance the light on the couple with the light from the fireworks.

Finally, I prepare my couple for the display.  I tell them that I will be shooting at a low shutter speed and I ask them to remain still (hugging each other, of course) for at least a few moments during the display.

Okay- now for some of my favorite fireworks photographs from this year (I will follow it up with an explanation of the camera settings and camera/lenses used):

Fireworks in Maine

Most of the time my favorite fireworks photographs include no additional lighting.  I love shooting fireworks with the light given off from the fireworks themselves and from any additional light sources that are close to the couple (the venue, for example).  However, because the fireworks may end up (due to wind or poor placement) farther away from the couple than is ideal for providing the right amount of light, I always have my flash mounted on my camera and I will take at least half with my flash as well.  I have enabled one of the function buttons on the front of my camera to disable my flash so that I don’t have to bother turning my flash on and off- I just hold the button down and the flash will not fire.  The photographs in the top two rows were taken with existing/available light while the photographs in the bottom row were taken with a flash firing.  They provide very different looks, so it all comes down to preference.  I prefer the photographs in the top two rows, but I like to provide my couples with a variety (and occasionally I will surprise myself and like one of the flash photographs better, too).

I shoot with the Nikon D3s, so I am very happy with the camera’s files at 6400 and I set my camera’s ISO to 6400 for the fireworks display.  I use my 14-24 2.8 because I usually shoot fireworks in the 18mm range and I like the flexibility that the zoom offers.  (This is actually the only zoom I use, and I bought it specifically to use for fireworks and sparkler displays although it has crept into regular reception use now as well.)

When I am photographing the fireworks without a flash, I generally shoot at 1/8 of a second at 2.8.  I’m comfortable holding my camera steady at 1/8 of a second at 18mm, but you will definitely want to test yourself before you try it out on a job.  When I am photographing the fireworks with a flash I try to bounce it behind me (onto a building or tent or even a person standing there) to provide some directional light.  Occasionally nothing with be available and I will point the flash up with a white card (to provide a tiny amount of light bouncing forward).  With the flash on I often photograph at 1/25 of a second at 2.8 with my flash on manual.

Obviously those settings are where I start and I take some test shots prior to the start of the display and adjust once the fireworks start if need be.

Post by Maine Wedding Photographer Michelle Turner.

About Michelle Turner

Michelle Turner has written 19 post in this blog.

Michelle is a professional wedding photographer who splits time between Maine and Puerto Vallarta.

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